It’s Guest Review Wednesday once again on Okazu and I couldn’t be happier…but that’s because I’ve already read today’s review and I can’t stop laughing. Once again it is my sincere pleasure to welcome back Okazu Superhero, longtime friend, traveling companion and amazing Guest Reviewer Bruce P Yaaaayyy!
I picked up a copy of 34-sai Mushoku-san (The Unemployed 34-Year Old), (34歳無職さん) Volume 1, by Ikeda Takashi, with the not unreasonable thought that the author of Sasameki Koto might have included some Yuri along the way. I was wrong; four volumes later, and there hasn’t been a hint of Yuri. Instead what we are given is a viciously drawn-out interior monologue of boredom, hopelessness, and personal failure. It’s cruel, peculiar, glacial, and grindingly depressing. Plus it makes me laugh. What a great manga.
The protagonist, who is never named, is a 34-year old woman who lives alone in an apartment and who has lost her job. The first chapter starts right off with a gag–she wakes up and can’t find her glasses (they’re on top of her head). The jokes continue. She doesn’t get up in time to take out the recycling. Her vacuum cleaner falls over. And then it falls over again. What we have here is a wacky slice-of-life story, as our madcap heroine searches for love and employment in the big city! Except…she doesn’t actually ever do any searching for love, or for employment, and as the same jokes begin to repeat, and repeat, it becomes clear that they are not jokes at all. They are symptoms, and despite her best excuses she is a woman in serious trouble.
Though able to deal marginally with others, even if there aren’t many others she ever deals with, at home she lives in a state of almost total paralysis. She cannot pull herself out of her futon until late afternoon, or up from under the kotatsu – Yui from K-ON! all grown up when it is no longer cute. You get the sense that losing the job may not have had much to do with the economy after all. She’s isolated from her family (including a daughter) and has only one acquaintance, a woman she meets occasionally for dinner and who is blatantly drawn with eyes always shut. Her only real companion is her apartment. She just swirls slowly, sleepily around in the drain of her well-vacuumed world. And if that doesn’t make you want to shell out for the multi-volume set, be assured that in Volume 2 she takes dramatic steps to change her life, by contemplating possibly taking dramatic steps to change her life. Contemplation of these steps continues in Volume 3 and Volume 4.
It sounds grimmer than kidneys on toast. Why read it?
(1) Asymmetric though she is, her character is strikingly realistic, and in more spots than are comfortable I can see, in her, a reflection of some of my own unlovely edges. This is both disturbing, and of value when I’m trying to get out of bed in the morning.
(2) It’s beautifully and brilliantly drawn, which nicely counters the subject; some chapters contain no words at all, but are simply picture plays as she bleakly and languorously contemplates her empty life. It’s like mime, in two dimensions, though not as depressing.
(3) Ikeda-sensei has a nice comic touch, and it really is quite funny. Even if laughing at all the pratfalls feels somehow misdirected, like appreciating the Hindenburg disaster on account of it being all bright and sparkly.
(4) Nothing has changed in four volumes. I’m still waiting for the thing to happen.
Art: 9. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Story: 5. Not so much a story as a slowly deteriorating situation. I’m betting on something happening; it eventually did in the classic gently-paced series Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou when Kokone reappeared. My suggestion is to add robots.
Character: 18. She’s not honestly sympathetic, but credit for every year over the age of 16.
Yuri: 0. Unfortunate, but ideally Yuri requires a second character.
Service: 2. A few sponge bath scenes, if you’re desperate enough.
Overall: 8. 34-sai Mushoku-san will not be to everyone’s taste. However, I have never been a fan of action series, and with this one I hit the jackpot.